Considering the perilous state of the budget, the movement toward more efficient and environmentally sound development in Connecticut, called smart growth, has fared reasonably well in 2009.
Bills on subjects ranging from brownfields to regionalism and "green" tax credits have been passed by the General Assembly. Also, state and federal officials continue to move ahead on two transportation projects — the New HavenHartfordSpringfield commuter rail service and the HartfordNew Britain busway — that should encourage more compact development in the state.
But there is still a ways to go, as was evidenced by the progress of a bill to encourage regional development. The bill was one of several that came from a smart-growth working group convened last year by state Rep. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden. Members of the group understood that the state's heavy reliance on local property taxes encourages towns to compete with one another for commercial taxpayers, and sometimes to make poor land-use decisions to accommodate them.
The group crafted a bill that would allow towns to work together to site economic development projects. They would agree not to compete and would share in property taxes generated from new projects. The carrot for towns taking part in this program was to be a share of the sales- and use-tax revenue collected in the towns. But things being as they are, the state decided to keep all of its sales-tax revenue. The bill passed without the sales-tax incentive.
Mr. Sharkey believes the plan can still generate new revenue and lower the cost of government, and he plans to talk with town officials across the state about it.
The working group developed other voluntary programs on planning and land use, and has incorporated smart-growth principles into state planning. The group at the very least has focused more attention than has heretofore been paid on how the state should develop — how we should live together — in the 21st century.
The essence of smart growth is to carefully increase density in town centers, transit corridors and other already built areas, to encourage less energy use and pollution, and to preserve farms and open space. So one of the best accomplishments this year was protecting some of the effective programs passed in recent years — such as HomeConnecticut and the Community Investment Act — that are delivering smart growth. Plus, the state's new economic development strategy, due next month, is expected to use smart-growth principles.
The more we can maintain the state's quality of life in troubled times, the better prepared we will be when the economy turns for the better.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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